Question: Will all schools still have to become academies eventually? And if so, what should maintained schools be doing to review their options?
Christine says: We know that the pace of conversions to academy status dropped off once Nicky Morgan did a U-turn on the target for all schools to convert by 2022. However, it is naive to think that the government has abandoned the goal of full academisation, given the extra money involved in running two funding and accountability systems.
An old-fashioned SWOT analysis can help decide the best options for your school. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats and is a great analysis tool. There are four key areas, two internal and two external that you should look at when making your decision.
The first of these areas is an honest appraisal of your current standards of academic achievement. Can you describe academic performance as strength? Or are there potential weaknesses that need to be addressed? A strong performance might be seen as an opportunity to think about how you could influence beyond your own school – or to rethink what you might need from others to take academic performance to a new level.
Don’t forget that although the proposals in the white paper to intervene in underperforming councils have been dropped, the government already has powers through the Education and Adoption bill to intervene where schools are failing and coasting. Some might argue this is a threat – others an opportunity to do things differently.
The second internal analysis is around resources, financial as well as human. In human terms, are you expecting any significant changes in staffing, especially in senior management? Many young, up-and-coming leaders are looking for the challenge and opportunities that running an academy can bring. If you are ‘closed’ to the idea of conversion, you may run the risk of narrowing your recruitment field.
In financial terms, how healthy are your reserves? The funding crisis isn’t going to go away and if you decide to stay maintained you may not be able to rely on the local authority to help balance the books. Alternatively, you may see the efficiency savings that can be gained from being part of a multi-academy trust as an opportunity, especially if they can be ploughed back into the classroom.
Moving to external factors, you need to appraise your local authority for their strengths and weaknesses and whether these are a threat or an opportunity for your school. Are they actively encouraging their schools to convert to academy status? Are they withdrawing from providing school improvement support and traded services? There are County Council elections next year – what is the likelihood of a change of control? All of these questions have a direct impact on your decision about what to do next.
2. Local trusts
Finally, the fourth area is to look at the local pattern of provision. You may be in an area with few existing academies or multi-academy trusts, in which case you may judge this to be an opportunity to create and lead a new multi-academy trust. Or you may want to wait and see what develops locally. Alternatively, you may be one of the last maintained schools in your local area and that will mean more limited options.
In both circumstances we recommend a mapping exercise, picking out out the existing provision for maintained schools, single academy trusts and multi-academy trusts operating locally. For primary schools our suggestion is to look at everything in a 10-mile radius and for secondary, everything within a 25-mile radius. To produce sensible options, you may need to reduce these distances for cities and increase them for rural areas.
If you look at these four areas and produce a SWOT analysis a clear picture will emerge that should answer the question about ‘what to do next’. However, there is a caveat. You need to revisit regularly. A week is a long time in the world of education and politics and much can change. You need to be ready to grab those opportunities when you are ready to make your move!